European Leaders See Promise on Digital Tax

The U.S. Senate’s confirmation of U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has raised hope on the other side of the Atlantic. Yellen said the U.S. administration remains committed to working to resolve digital taxation disputes, a remark that Europeans are reading optimistically.In this file photo taken on Dec. 1, 2020, Janet Yellen speaks during a cabinet announcement event at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware.Overall, Yellen explained that the new administration supports the call for tech companies to pay more taxes, a statement that won praise from French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who spoke at the World Economic Forum.“I think it is very good news that the new Secretary for the Treasury Janet Yellen just explained that she was open about the idea of thinking about a new international taxation with the two pillars: First of all, digital taxation and, of course, also a minimum taxation on corporate tax,” Le Maire said. “I think we are on the right track. There is a possibility of finding an agreement on this new international taxation system by the end of this spring 2021.”German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses a press conference following talks via video conference with Germany’s state premiers in Berlin on Dec. 13, 2020.The comments echoed those by German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. He told Reuters on Tuesday he hopes an international agreement on digital taxation will happen by summer.Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon are dubbed as GAFA in France by those who criticize what they say are the multinationals’ longstanding avoidance of European taxes.For years, former U.S. president Donald Trump had opposed any proposal to tax the tech giants.The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) hosted the international talks over digital taxation. Members postponed a deadline for an agreement into 2021 after the U.S. pulled out of talks in June last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.The French finance minister said it is a matter of fairness.“The winners of the economic crisis are the digital giants,” Le Maire said. “How can you explain to some sectors that have been severely hit by the crisis and that are paying their due level of taxes that the digital giants will not have to pay the same amount of taxes? This is unfair and also inefficient from a financial point of view.”Last October, the OECD warned that tensions over a digital tax could trigger a trade war that could wipe out one percent of global growth every year.

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Britain Surpasses 100K COVID-19 Deaths

Britain’s health department reported Tuesday the nation’s death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 100,000 people.  
In a televised news briefing from his office, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “It’s hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic, the years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended, and for so many relatives the missed chance, even to say goodbye,”   
The health department said more than 100,000 Britons have died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test. The government figures show Britain has the fifth highest death toll globally and reported a further 1,631 deaths and 20,089 cases on Tuesday.  
Britain is the fifth country in the world to record 100,000 virus-related deaths, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, and is by far the smallest in terms of population.
The U.S. has recorded more than 400,000 COVID-19 deaths, the world’s highest total, but its population of about 330 million is about five times Britain’s. Worldwide, more than 2.1 million people have died from COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Britain is speeding up its vaccine distribution with more than 6.8 million people receiving their first dose of vaccine and more than 472,000 receiving both doses as of Monday.

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Italian Prime Minister Resigns

Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, resigned Tuesday after weeks of turmoil in his ruling coalition, leaving Italy rudderless as it battles the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
He tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, the effective head of state in in Italy. Through his general secretary, who formally announced the resignation, Mattarella invited Conte to stay on in a caretaker capacity pending discussions on what happens next.
Mattarella’s office says the president will begin consultations with party leaders late Wednesday to determine the next steps.
Conte lost his absolute majority in Italy’s Senate, despite winning two votes of confidence in parliament last week.
The defection of a crucial ally, former premier Matteo Renzi, greatly stymied the government’s ability to effectively manage the pandemic and its effect on the country’s already weak economy.
For 15 months, Conte headed the European country in collaboration with its largest party in parliament, the 5-star Movement, and Matteo Salvini’s League party. But bickering led to the withdrawal of Salvini after he failed to win the premiership and that first government collapsed.
President Mattarella has reiterated the need for strong leadership as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and a weak economy.  
Italy has the fourth-highest number of infections in Europe, at more than 2.4 million, and the second-highest number of deaths, at more than 85,000, behind Great Britain, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Mattarella could decide to find someone else to form the coalition he needs in parliament. He also has the option to dissolve parliament paving the way for fresh elections two years early, according to the Associated Press.
Another former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who heads a centrist opposition party, could supply crucial support for the next government.
In a statement, Berlusconi called for a “new government that would represent substantial unity of the country in a moment of emergency.” The statement also suggested early elections.
But Conte still enjoys support from the Democratic Party, which is lobbying for a reappointment despite the inability to work with the 5-Star Movement.

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Netherlands Police, Protesters Clash for 3rd Straight Night Over COVID-19 Restrictions

Police and protesters in the Netherlands clashed for a third consecutive night Monday after the government imposed a curfew to slow the spread of COVID-19.
At least 150 people were arrested across the country Monday as protests turned to rioting with demonstrators in some areas setting fires, throwing rocks and looting stores.
In the city of Rotterdam, police responded with tear gas and similar scenes played out in Amsterdam, where water cannons were used on rioters. Unrest was reported in smaller municipalities as well, including Haarlem, Geleen and Den Bosch. Officials say 10 police officers were injured in Rotterdam.
The protests began Saturday after the government imposed the first curfew since World War II.  Officials took the action following a warning by the National Institute for Health (RIVM) regarding a new wave of infections due to a more easily transmissible variant strain of the coronavirus, originally identified in Britain.  
But many argued the steps were not necessary as the nation has seen steady overall declines in new infections over the last several weeks.
Monday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte condemned what he called the “criminal violence” “What we saw has nothing to do with fighting for freedom. We didn’t take all these measures for fun, we did so because we are fighting against the virus and it’s the virus which is actually robbing our freedom.”
Schools and non-essential shops in the Netherlands have been closed since mid-December, following the closure of bars and restaurants two months earlier.
More than 966,000 confirmed cases and 13,600 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in the Netherlands since the start of the pandemic.

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Brexit Bites for British Businesses as Border Delays Slow Trade

Despite making up just 0.1% of Britain’s economy, fishing played an outsized role in the brinkmanship leading up to December’s Brexit agreement between London and Brussels.  
 
Many Brexit supporters saw regaining control of the country’s sovereign waters as totemic. A month since the agreement was signed, many fishermen say they feel betrayed.   
 
Under the deal, a quarter of European boats’ fishing rights in British waters will be transferred to British boats over the next five years.
 
That is not good enough, said Phil Mitchell, skipper of the 23-meter-long trawler Govenek of Ladram, which operates from Newlyn Harbor in Cornwall, England. He believes many fishermen feel they were exploited by the “Leave” campaign.
 
“They were happy to use us for their campaign, and when push comes to shove, we’ve had the shove, and we’ve been dumped on from a great height,” Mitchell said.
 
Mitchell said Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised Britain would regain full control of its waters.
 
“The fact now is that we’re worse off than before Brexit because it’s all written in that we won’t be able to get (control of fishing rights) back. And it’s just a travesty. Boris, the betrayer, has completely sold us down the river,” he added.
 
Nearly half of the fish caught by British boats is exported to the European Union, a trade worth over $1.8 billion in 2019. Brexit has brought new border checks, paperwork and costs.FILE – Fishing boats are moored at the South Pier of Bridlington Harbor fishing port in Bridlington, Dec. 11, 2020.Allan Miller runs AM Shellfish from Aberdeen, Scotland, another hub of Britain’s fish industry. He said delivery times of live brown crab, lobster and prawns to Europe had doubled, meaning lower prices, while some of the product does not survive the increased journey time.  
 
Miller was one of several seafood exporters to stage a protest outside Parliament in London this month, using articulated trucks to block traffic around Westminster.
 
“Live shellfish, it’s got a sell-by date. It’s alive or dead,” Miller said. “Unless the government does something, a lot of these businesses will be out of here. They’ll be finished.”  
 
Johnson insists the problems will be ironed out.
 
“Insofar as there are problems at the moment caused by teething problems, people not filling in the right forms or misunderstandings. And when it’s not people’s fault, of course, we’re going to compensate and to help out. And funds have been put in place to do that,” Johnson told reporters January 18. “But be in no doubt that there are great opportunities for fishermen across the whole of the U.K. to take advantage of the spectacular marine wealth of the United Kingdom. … There is scope for fishermen, fishing communities, fishers across the U.K. to take advantage of the increase in quota,” Johnson added.
 
It is not just fish that are floundering. Other sectors are warning of significant disruption. New tax rules have prompted some European retailers to stop selling to British customers, while some shipping firms have paused their cross-Channel operations.
Edward Velasco, British import manager at the pan-European fruit and vegetable supplier Rodanto, said problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic have been compounded.
 
“We’ve had the added challenge of Brexit and the added documentation that requires hauliers have an extra cost in coming here. They don’t know if the drivers are going to get back within a certain amount of time. If they’re not, if the wheels are not moving, they’re losing money. And ultimately, so are we,” Velasco told Reuters news agency.FILE – Trucks bound for Britain wait on the access ramp to the Channel Tunnel in Calais, northern France, before leaving for England, Dec. 17, 2020.Supermarkets in Northern Ireland have faced shortages owing to extra checks on goods shipped from mainland Britain. So, is it teething troubles, or an inevitable consequence of Britain’s decision to quit the European Union?
“It depends which sector you’re talking about, whether these are teething problems or they are structural and endemic to the consequences of having signed the EU-U.K. Free Trade Agreement,” said analyst Rem Korteweg of the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands.  
 
“Where I think there are teething problems is in the issue, let’s say, of small-order transports. So, this question of ‘groupage’ that hauliers are now facing, where they have to sign forms for every single shoebox or crate that is in their container, I think those things can be simplified,” Korteweg told VOA.
 
He added, “Where I don’t think we’re currently facing teething problems — and things are much more structural — is, for instance, in the health and sanitary, and phytosanitary and food safety checks, for instance, with fish exports. Because that is the consequence of leaving the Single Market, that there is now a regulatory border.”  
 
Britain insists Brexit will offer economic opportunities outside the EU. Its strategy was given a boost this week as Japanese carmaker Nissan pledged to keep building cars in Britain and invest millions of dollars building a new factory to make batteries for electric vehicles.  
 
From 2027, all British and European carmakers will have to source batteries from either Britain or the EU or face tariffs on their exports.
 
“Brexit gives us the competitive advantage not only within the United Kingdom but outside the United Kingdom, also,” Nissan’s Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta said Thursday following the announcement.
 
The government hopes other companies will soon follow Nissan’s lead and invest in its vision of a “Global Britain.” But a month on from the signing of the EU-U.K. Free Trade Agreement, many businesses say Brexit has so far brought extra costs and little benefit.
 

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Turkey: No Word from Pirates Who Seized Sailors off Nigeria

Pirates who seized 15 sailors when they stormed a Turkish-crewed container ship in the Gulf of Guinea two days ago have not yet made contact with authorities, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Monday.An Azeri sailor was killed when armed attackers boarded the vessel, which was headed to Cape Town from Lagos, and abducted 15 Turkish sailors.”We have not yet received word from the pirates,” foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.Turkey was in contact with officials in Gabon, where he said the Liberian-flagged container ship Mozart had docked with its remaining crew, and with authorities in neighboring countries.Echoing comments by President Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s transport minister said the government was working to ensure the swift release of the sailors.”We will rescue our citizens from the hands of these bandits and reunite them with their families as soon as possible,” Adil Karaismailoglu said.The ship was attacked 160 km (100 miles) off Sao Tome island on Saturday, maritime reports showed.Pirates in the Gulf, which borders more than a dozen countries, kidnapped 130 sailors in 22 incidents last year, accounting for all but five of those seized worldwide, according to an International Maritime Bureau report.The attack on the Mozart could raise international pressure on Nigeria to do more to protect shippers, who have called for tougher action in recent weeks, analysts said.

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Greece, Turkey Resume Talks on Maritime Disputes in Mediterranean Under Pressure from EU and NATO

Greece and Turkey opened their first direct talks in nearly five years in Istanbul Monday to discuss long-standing maritime disputes in the eastern Mediterranean.Relations between Athens and Ankara were exacerbated in August of last year when Turkey deployed a survey vessel in contested Mediterranean waters and gunboats from the two countries collided.Disputes over energy sources and borders also have threatened to spiral out of control.Greece and Turkey, both members of the NATO military alliance, made insignificant progress in several dozen rounds of talks between 2002 and 2016.The European Union and NATO had pressed hard on Ankara and Athens to sit down at the negotiating table. They agreed early this month to resume talks in Istanbul, with Turkey hoping to improve its relations with the 27-member block.On Saturday, however, Athens expressed willingness to only discuss issues of mutual economic interests and the continental shelf in the eastern Mediterranean, but not issues of “national sovereignty.”  Last week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country would approach the talks with optimism but “zero naivety.”  On his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped returning to negotiation table would “herald a new era.”The EU has supported Greece, a member of the group, in its disputes with neighboring Turkey, and threatened sanctions on Turkey, but has postponed imposing them until March of this year.

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Dutch Police Clash With Anti-Lockdown Protesters in 2 Cities

Rioters set fires in the center of the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven and pelted police with rocks Sunday at a banned demonstration against coronavirus lockdown measures, while officers responded with tear gas and water cannons, arresting at least 55 people.Police in the capital of Amsterdam 125 kilometers (78 miles) away also used a water cannon to disperse an outlawed anti-lockdown demonstration on a major square ringed by museums. Video showed police spraying people grouped against a wall of the Van Gogh Museum.It was the worst violence to hit the Netherlands since the pandemic began and the second straight Sunday that police clashed with protesters in Amsterdam. The country has been in a tough lockdown since mid-December that is set to continue at least until Feb. 9. The government beefed up the lockdown with a 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew that went into force Saturday.Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus condemned the violence.”This has nothing to do with demonstrating against corona measures,” Grapperhaus said in a statement. “This is simply criminal behavior; people who deliberately target police, riot police, journalists and other aid workers.”In Eindhoven, south of Amsterdam, a central square near the main railway station was littered with rocks, bicycles and shattered glass. The crowd of hundreds of demonstrators also was believed to include supporters of the anti-immigrant group PEGIDA, which had sought to demonstrate in the city.Eindhoven police said they made at least 55 arrests and warned people to stay away from the city center amid the clashes. Trains to and from the station were halted and local media reported plundering at the station.A woman not involved in the protests was hospitalized after being injured by a police horse, police said.Police said more than 100 people were arrested in Amsterdam.  Dutch media reported unrest in other Dutch towns Sunday night with people protesting the curfew.The violence came a day after anti-curfew rioters torched a coronavirus testing facility in the Dutch fishing village of Urk.Video from Urk, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Amsterdam, showed youths breaking into the coronavirus testing facility near the village’s harbor before it was set ablaze Saturday night.The lockdown was imposed by the Dutch government to rein in the spread of the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus.Police said they fined more than 3,600 people nationwide for breaching the curfew that ran from 9 p.m. Saturday until 4:30 a.m. Sunday and arrested 25 people for breaching the curfew or for violence.The police and municipal officials issued a statement Sunday expressing their anger at rioting, “from throwing fireworks and stones to destroying police cars and with the torching of the test location as a deep point.””This is not only unacceptable, but also a slap in the face, especially for the local health authority staff who do all they can at the test center to help people from Urk,” the local authorities said, adding that the curfew would be strictly enforced for the rest of the week.On Sunday, all that remained of the portable testing building was a burned-out shell.
 

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